Consult public before dissolving the Open Space Fund - Albuquerque Journal

Consult public before dissolving the Open Space Fund

Ken Burns called our national parks America’s best idea. It is not making too strong a statement that one of Albuquerque’s best ideas is our Open Space Program. The reason we can make this brash claim is because, as a city councilor and an open space planner in the early 1980s, we worked personally with a huge citizen base of support in the creation of Albuquerque’s nationally recognized Open Space Program.

The Open Space Trust Fund, created almost 40 years ago as the cornerstone of that program, is at risk of being dissolved, along with the trust held by the many advocates within Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. A proposed amendment to the Ordinance (O-21-79) will strip away the intent of this permanent fund and the important role played by the volunteer Open Space Advisory Board.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, a grassroots effort of volunteers worked to protect major public open space that had significant natural, cultural and environmental importance. The Comprehensive Plan developed in 1974 identified the Sandia Foothills, the Bosque, the Northwest Mesa Escarpment, and Volcanoes as important properties for acquisition. In the early 1980s, the face of the Sandia Mountains was at risk of being developed. Once again, the citizens worked with then-Mayor Harry Kinney and the leadership of the City Council, including Pat Baca, Alan Reed, Marion Cottrell and Bob White, to establish a quarter-cent tax to save the Elena Gallegos Open Space and place it on the ballot for voter approval. This three-year tax was approved and the purpose directed solely to support major public open space. The Open Space Trust Fund was created in 1982 as an “irrevocable trust” so that, by law, the principal could not be touched, and the interest earned would be used for future acquisition and, ultimately, maintenance and operational costs of protecting open space. This trust must not be betrayed.

Current Facts:

• The Open Space Advisory Board (OSAB) was completely unaware of proposed changes to the Trust Fund and deserves the opportunity to review the specifics of this 11-page bill.

• The city manages 30,000 acres of major public open space. There is a priority list for acquisition, with specific criteria and review to qualify properties for acquisition.

• Many important properties are yet to be acquired – including the Northern Sand Dunes, the Northern Geologic Window and sensitive areas adjacent to Petroglyph National Monument.

• OSAB has the responsibility of citizen oversight and provides an important advisory role to City Council and the mayor. This hardworking, nonpartisan board takes its role seriously and represents the public.

• OSAB has been addressing issues associated with the future of the trust fund to protect it in perpetuity and adjust the investment in order receive a higher return.

The public deserves to review the ramifications of reducing the Trust Fund to one that is made available for acquisition of incidental properties and capital improvements, as is allowed in O-21-79. OSAB and the public deserve an opportunity to make recommendations to the City Council. A change of this size should be given an appropriate amount of time to get it right. City Council should defer this action to provide for more public input.

 


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